Saturday, 14 October 2017

Location, location, location

I like researching locations for my stories. Contemporary stories in a foreign location are easily researched with tour guides, travel books and all the resources of the internet, but set the story in the past, and it’s a little bit harder to visualise. Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian locations are not too hard here in England as many of the streets and buildings are still extant, but when I made a 4 day trip to Dublin and found that the street I had set my heroine’s home on was still there I was surprised and delighted that I could walk up and down it. Why was I surprised? Because I had set my story in the eleventh century – almost a thousand years ago. (The fact that the street looked nothing like the scene I had envisaged didn’t spoil things for me. There might be fairly ordinary brick buildings there now, but the shape of the street was the same, I could see how steep it was, whether I could see the river or the sea from there, and it led to the cathedral that was being built at the time.)

Dublin was a famous Viking stronghold and an ancient settlement even when the Vikings arrived, so maps of the place in those days were easy to find online and print out thanks to archaeological studies. I could really get to know the layout of the Viking town from the maps and they showed the development from the earliest settlement to the 1200s, which covered my period of interest. Visiting the place showed me how narrow the river is now compared to how much shallower and wider it had once been before Lord Sitric confined it and reclaimed what had been swampy, tidal land.

Setting Far After Gold in the north west of Scotland was both better, because I had spent many holidays there, and worse because there wasn’t an equivalent large settlement like Dublin. is a starting point for the history of the area and the latest large scale maps show where the settlements and brochs, rivers and fords once were and still are. I could describe the landscape because I’d seen it, as long as I made allowances for the changes that have taken place. Forests were much larger around the eleventh century and land was undrained and often swampy. Fords and known tracks were important for travellers and travel by sea was deemed much easier than travel overland. I had experienced the weather of the north west in the summer months and late October, early November; research told me which animals once lived there. We no longer have wolves in Scotland, but wolves and bears were certainly present back then.

Orkney is another of those places where research pays dividends. I’ve never been, but archaeology provides a great deal of information about dwellings, artefacts used, crops grown and where settlements were. Google Earth is fantastic for giving an author a feeling for the size of a place and the geography around it. The satellite imagery will give a very good idea of where you might beach a ship or find a way through the mountains and contour lines of maps will suggest whether you might end up in a bog or fall over a cliff face.

I discovered a fabulous website for maps held at the National Library of Scotland: and used it for the two historical novels set in Edinburgh and Stirling during the mid 1540s. The magnification on most of them allowed me to see individual buildings on the old High Street most clearly.
I used all of these techniques in writing ALBA IS MINE, released 1st October 2017. Here’s the blurb:

In 1034, the fuse has been lit that will change the kingship of Alba. When his place in the succession is rejected, Finlay of Moray rebels against his grandfather the king and sides with half-brother Thorfinn of Orkney.

With his intended bride married off to his cousin, his boyhood friend joining the opposing side and the threat of war looming, there is little happiness for Finlay. Wanting to cement the bond between them, Thorfinn badgers him to marry his beautiful sister, but Finlay, reluctant to abandon hope of his first love, grimly resists the idea.

This absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours. (US) (UK)

ALBA IS MINE Kindle Edition $3.11
Jen has always lived in the North East of England and currently resides in the lovely Tyne valley between Hexham and Newcastle. On a clear day she can see across Northumberland to the hills where the border with Scotland runs, and the beautiful unspoilt coastline is barely thirty minutes away by car. She has a degree in English Language & Literature and a great love of history, her dog Tim and takes pics wherever she goes. With several book titles to her credit she is now working on EILIDH AND THE VIKING. See her blog at find her on Twitter at JenBlackNCL.

I wrote this for the It went out this week and I was pleased with the result.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Fashion and cosmetics

 Anyone who knows me knows I am not a follower of fashion. I like to be clean and look neat and tidy, (except when I'm walking Tim, because he doesn't care what I look like - he loves me anyway!) but beyond that, comfort is my watchword. Ridiculous heels are not for me, though I will agree they are a miracle of engineering. But trust my ankles to them? No way!

I cannot actually remember when I last wore a skirt. Dresses, perhaps, when going out for  meal. But skirts? They seem to be a thing of the past, probably because few of us have waists anymore! I grew up wearing nice tweed skirts and crisp white blouses, and still think they look great. Tweed doesn't have to be hairy; it can be the softest, smoothest fabric ever and I love the intermix of so many soft colours. Jagged flashes of black and red or dresses so full of overblown flowers that remind me of wallpaper fashions are not for me.

Leggings, jeggings, joggers, opaque tights - an expert is required to tell the difference between them. They may be comfortable, but sometimes they look downright ugly. Particularly bad are the white or pastel coloured ones. Schoolgirls go to school now in stretchy black skirts that only just cover their knickers, worn with black opaque tights, and again, not all of them should be slaves to such a fashion. In fact, none of them should, since the parade of thighs every day as they go to and leave school is probably a distraction to every driver on the road! There is a sort of metronome precision about the march of the black clad thighs that draws the eye....but who looks at faces when there are so many thighs on view?

Then there is the new craze for having eyebrows that look fine on Middle Eastern ladies but have an odd, unbalanced look on most pale British faces. It may be the latest fashion, but some faces are overpowered by such eyebrows. Plus which, everyone's eyebrows are beginning to look the same. I long for a return to individuality, just as I long for this fashion for scarlet lipstick on blondes to disappear. Ladies with dark hair and skin tones can take it, but again it is a matter of balance and in my opinion - and this is only my opinion and you are free to disagree with me - scarlet lipstick looks like a wound against pale skin and fair hair.

Forget fashion - pursue your individuality and prosper! Those people in the fasion/cosmetic industry are making millions out of you.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

One of those days

This has been one of those days when lots of little things either don’t happen or don’t get fixed. Nothing major, nothing life changing but mildly annoying all the same. For example, my trip to the chemist to pick up my repeat prescription was foiled because it hasn’t been made up yet, which reminded me that I have not yet contacted the surgery to have an annual blood test done, the results of which will dictate the medication I take for the rest of the year. (This may be the reason the prescription was not ready for me!)

So I came home and tackled the online system for the surgery only to find that I can make an appointment with a doctor online, but not the nurse practitioners who do the blood tests. Picked up the phone to make said appointment only to be told that the surgery is closed until tomorrow morning. Surprising, since it was only four in the afternoon. They have half days? Who knew?

Our local supermarket did not have a copy of Writing Magazine which I wanted to purchase because a friend has a piece in the November issue. I don't know if they don't stock it, or if they simply have not received it yet. A second product I wanted was not available – found a rather large space on the shelf where it is usually kept.

I have tried yet again to change the description of my new novel release on Amazon Kindle. Yes, I know there’s a typo – that is what I’m trying to change, but it seems the gods are not with me today. Now Amazon is asking me to fill in their dreaded tax form and it seems I cannot find the right method of listing - international style – my phone number. They keep printing it in red. The final insult - the printer refuses to print out a copy of the instructions for filling in said tax form.

At this point I am making a major decision. I am going to bed to read my Gabaldon.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Alba is Mine

Publication Day yesterday!

Sad to say I may have caused a temporary problem for anyone trying to buy the book - I made a typo in the original book description on the KDP pages and have tried to alter it more than once while it was on pre-order. Yesterday I tried again, and once I'd done it, I realised that I'd effectively put the system out of action until they'd re-processed it.
Here's what I want the description to say: -


In 1034, the fuse has been lit that will change the kingship of Alba. When his place in the succession is rejected, Finlay of Moray rebels against his grandfather the king and sides with half-brother Thorfinn of Orkney.

With his intended bride married off to his cousin, his boyhood friend joining the opposing side and the threat of war looming, there is little happiness for Finlay. Wanting to cement the bond between them, Thorfinn badgers him to marry his beautiful sister, but Finlay, reluctant to abandon hope of his first love, grimly resists the idea.

This absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours.

Here are the links: (US) (UK)

This is my tag line:
Scottish-Viking struggles for a crown amidst treachery and love.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Re-reading the Outlander series

Gabaldon's books stand the test of time well. I'm enjoying reading them this time around (only my second venture into them) more than I did the first time. This may have something to do with the fact that I have more leisure time now to read them properly, word for word, instead of flipping through them to get them finished and go on to something else. The fact that I'm writing now may also have deepened my interest. 

As most of the female reading world knows, they are huge books, usually between 800 and 1,000 pages. Most agents and publishers frown on long books these days, so it will be interesting to see how long the last volume, scheduled for 2018, might be.

I'm almost finished Voyager, vol 2. This is the one where they sail for the West Indies to rescue Young Ian and I don't think I have read this one before. I often wondered, as I read later volumes, how they got to America with half their family around them. Now I'm finding out and along with that I'm discovering  some little bloopers. Yes, mistakes.  

They're not huge mistakes or typos, but because it is nice to know that even such famous authors who have huge publishing resources behind them can have the odd little typo, let me tell you what I've found. First of all she refers to Carter Bar as Carter's Bar. For those of you who have maybe never heard of the place, it is about 45 miles from me; the point on the A68 where the land drops over the ridge of the Cheviots from Northumberland into Scotland. If I checked historical maps I might find it was once called Carter's Bar - but so far all I've found is pubs and cafes in Edinburgh called Carter's Bar. 

The author also refers to "a bramble" from Jamie's mother's rose tapping against the window of Lallybroch. I've never heard of roses having brambles but evidently it is used in the US and people with more gardening experience than me assure me the UK catalogues hold a variety of bramble roses. To me, here in the north of England, we call  brambles those wild thorny shrubs that bear blackberries, and we go brambling.  On that point, I cannot accuse the US publisher of being incorrect. 

But when the author has Jamie and Claire sail from France to a port at Cape Wrath in the extreme north west of Scotland with vertiginous cliffs (there wasn't even a lighthouse until the mid 1800s) and no landing place, planning to pick up supplies at Lewes as they sail on to the West indies, I goggled. Cape Wrath is a hell of a place to get to today, never mind in 1760. The clansmen who rode there to meet them there were heroes! Read chapter 42 "We set sail" and then look at Cape Wrath on Google Earth. 

As for Lewes, it is unlikely that they had sailed from France to Cape Wrath and then proposed to sail south around Cornwall and back up the English Channel to Lewes to pick up supplies. Lewis, the northernmost of the western isles, however, would be on their way since they're sailing for Jamaica. 

Two pages on from this and there's an "exclamation of distate."

So many of the places mentioned in the story are real, but there are fantasy places mixed in, such as Ardsmuir prison. I never found where that was except she says it is on the west coast of Scotland near Coigach. Now, Coigach is the hill north west of Ullapool and there are islands off the headland where the gold could have been hidden on the seal's island. but my theory at the moment is that she uses genuine Scots names but not always as real places. It's become like a game for me to know which are which. Looking out for such things does not detract frm my enjoyment of the story; it's almost a bonus! Sad, I know!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Alba is Mine pre-order link

I think it is safe to put this up now.

"ALBA IS MINE" is available for pre-order in the Kindle Store. Customers may pre-order here

Those who pre-ordered the book will receive the content on the release date, 10/01/2017.

"The bloody struggle to be king has begun for Finlay of Moray. Cheated by his grandfather, the girl he expected to be his bride married off behind his back, he rebels and faces an ultimatum from the old king - face execution or persusade Thorfinn of Orkney to join them. 

His half-brother Thorfinn rules a sea-based empire from Orkney and he too wants something of Finlay -
marriage with his sister and a war against kith and kin that will cost him dear. 

Two women vie for his love and in the turbulent world of 1034 AD the threat of death is as close as a cold shiver down the spine. Set in present day Scotland, then known as Alba, this is an absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom. A hero worth fighting for and an exhilarating historical thriller that will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours."

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


The per-page rate for Kindle Unlimited dropped down to $0.004034 per page for July, 2017.
This downward trend has now continued for several months.

But it’s common for the rate to drop in January for the holiday season, and return upward starting in February.

On the other hand, the KDP Select Global Fund for July, 2017 was $19M, which is a clear million dollars above the $18M payout for June, 2017.
This is part of an upward trend. 

So while the per-page rate has dropped recently, overall Amazon KDP is paying even more in combined Kindle Unlimited royalties.

"However, there is another big factor involved. Amazon KDP just introduced KENPC v3.0. If you haven’t already done so, you should check the current KENPC’s of your books. You can check your current KENPC from your KDP bookshelf. Click the Promote and Advertise button next your title (or click the … button to find this option, if necessary), and scroll down.
If your KENPC happens to be longer than it had been, that will help compensate for the lower per-page rate. If your KENPC happens to be shorter now, the lower rate will hurt even more if it continues."

Chris McMullen runs a very good blog for those who can handle more detail on this sort of topic. Here is the link:

Monday, 4 September 2017

Summing up

The first detailed study of the genetics of British people has revealed that the Romans, Vikings and Normans may have ruled or invaded the British for hundreds of years, but they left barely a trace on our DNA. The Anglo-Saxons were the only conquering force, around 400-500 AD, to alter the country’s genetic makeup, with most white British people now owing almost 30% of their DNA to the ancestors of modern-day Germans.

The study found people in southern and central England today typically share about 40% of their DNA with the French, 11% with the Danes and 9% with the Belgians. Surprisingly the French contribution was not linked to the Norman invasion of 1066, but to a previously unknown wave of migration to Britain after the end of the last Ice Age nearly 10,000 years ago.

Prof Peter Donnelly is the director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford. “It has long been known,” he says, “that human populations differ genetically, but never before have we been able to observe such exquisite and fascinating detail.”

People from areas of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland emerge as separate genetic clusters, providing a scientific basis to the idea of regional identity for the first time. “They’re among the most different in our study,” said Mark Robinson, an archaeologist from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and a co-author. “It’s stressing their genetic difference, it’s not saying there aren’t cultural similarities.”

25% of DNA in the Orkney Isles comes from Norwegian ancestors who invaded the islands in the 9th century. Scientists believe Welsh DNA most closely resembles that of the earliest hunter-gatherers to have arrived when Britain became habitable again after the Ice Age.
Surprisingly, the study showed no genetic basis for a single “Celtic” group. 

Scientists began collecting DNA samples from people in Orkney in 1994 and gradually worked across most of the British Isles. The participants were all white British, lived in rural areas and had four grandparents all born within 50 miles (80km) of each other. Since a quarter of our genome comes from each of our grandparents, the scientists were effectively obtaining a snapshot of British genetics at the beginning of the 20th century.

Sir Walter Bodmer, of the University of Oxford, who conceived the study, said: “We’re reaching back in time to before most of the mixing of the population, which would fog history.”

Data from 6,209 individuals from 10 European countries was studied to allow an understanding of how their ancestors compared with the genetic makeup of the British.

 Hannah Devlin @hannahdev reported on this in 2015

Friday, 1 September 2017

A geographical entity II

 It’s not known how or when the languages that we choose to call 'Celtic', arrived - they were already long established and had diversified into several tongues, when our evidence begins. Certainly, there is no reason to link the coming of 'Celtic' language with any great 'Celtic invasions' from Europe during the Iron Age, because there is no hard evidence to suggest there were any. Nor does language  determine ethnicity. If it did, then we wouldn't be English but German, since English is classified as a Germanic tongue.
Archaeologists widely agree the British Iron Age’s many regional cultures grew out of the preceding local Bronze Age, not from waves of continental 'Celtic' invaders. Calling the British Iron Age 'Celtic' is so misleading that it is best abandoned. There are cultural similarities and connections between Britain, Ireland and continental Europe, but the same could be said for many other periods of history.
The things we have labelled 'Celtic' icons - such as hill-forts and art, weapons and jewellery - were more about aristocratic, political, military and religious connections than common ethnicity.
The Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43 shows the profound cultural and political impact that small numbers of people can have. The Romans did not colonise the islands of Britain to any significant degree. Their army, administration and carpet-baggers added only a few per cent to a population of around three million.

 It was the indigenous wealthy people adopting the new international culture of power who built the province's towns and villas. The islanders became Romans, both culturally and legally (Roman citizenship was more a political status than an ethnic identity). By AD 300, almost everyone in 'Britannia' was Roman, legally and culturally, even though of indigenous descent and still mostly speaking 'Celtic' dialects. Roman rule saw profound cultural change, but without any mass migration.
However, “Scotland” remained beyond Roman government, although the nearby presence of the empire had major effects. The kingdom of the Picts appeared during the third century AD, the first of a series of statelets which developed through the merging of the 'tribes' of earlier times.
In western and northern Britain, the end of Roman power saw the reassertion of linguistic and cultural trends reaching back to before the Iron Age. Yet in the long term, societies gradually tended towards larger states. The Irish-ruled kingdom of Dalriada merged in the ninth century with the Pictish kingdom to form Scotland.
The western-most parts of the old province created small kingdoms which developed into the Welsh and Cornish regions.
The Romans left Britannia around c.410 AD and bBy the sixth century, most of the country had been taken over by 'Germanic' kingdoms. It was once believed that the Romano-British were slaughtered or driven west by hordes of invading Anglo-Saxons. However, there was no such simple displacement of 'Celts' by 'Germans'.
How many settlers actually crossed the North Sea to Britain is disputed, but it is clear that they  mixed with indigenous populations which, in many areas, apparently formed the majority.

The new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms formed from indigenous and immigrant populations drew their cultural inspiration, and their dominant language, from across the North Sea. These people became the English. 
Contrary to the traditional idea that Britain originally possessed a 'Celtic' uniformity, in reality Britain has always been home to multiple peoples. While its population has shown strong biological continuity over millennia, the identities the islanders have chosen to adopt have undergone some remarkable changes. Many of these have been due to contacts and conflicts across the seas, not least as the result of episodic, but often very modest, arrivals of newcomers.

(Please click here  for  the link to the original article.)

Monday, 28 August 2017

A geographical entity I

Before Romans times, “Britain” was just a geographical entity with no political meaning and no single cultural identity. 
The gene pool of the island has changed slowly and the idea of large-scale migrations has been widely discredited. The island has always consisted of multiple cultural groups and identities, many of which looked across the seas for their closest connections - they did not necessarily connect naturally with their fellow islanders. Genetic studies are revealing much more of this island's past and it makes fascinating reading.
From the arrival of the first modern humans - who were hunter-gatherers, following the retreating ice northwards - to the beginning of recorded history is a period of about 100 centuries, or 400 generations; a vast time span we know very little about. 
Biologically these people were part of the Caucasoid population of Europe. The accepted regional physical stereotypes - red-headed people in Scotland, small, dark-haired folk in Wales and lanky blondes in southern England - existed in Roman times.
Different environments encouraged a great regional diversity of culture that consisted of small-scale societies, petty 'tribal' identities, typically lasting perhaps no more than a few generations before splitting, merging or disappearing. These groups were in contact and conflict with their neighbours, and sometimes with more distant groups - the appearance of exotic imported objects attest exchanges, alliance and kinship links, and wars.
At the end of the Iron Age (roughly the last 700 years BC), the first eye-witness accounts of Britain appear. Greco-Roman authors like Julius Caesar reveal a mosaic of named peoples (Trinovantes, Silures, Cornovii, Selgovae, and many more), but there is little sign such groups had a sense of collective identity.

Romans, modern archaeologists and the Iron Age islanders themselves all agree that they were not Celts. This was an 18th century invention; the name was not used earlier. Around 1700 the non-English island tongues were found to relate to that of the ancient continental Gauls, who really were called Celts. This ancient continental ethnic label was applied to the wider family of languages. But 'Celtic' was soon extended to describe insular monuments, art, culture and peoples, ancient and modern: island 'Celtic' identity was born, like Britishness, in the 18th century.

Dr Simon James is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester. He specialises in Iron Age and Roman archaeology, Celtic ethnicity and the archaeology of violence and warfare. I found an very interesting article of his, quite long, and the above is my attempt to whittle out the main points so that I will remember them. You may wish to read the entire article:

Friday, 25 August 2017

Viking Scotland V

King Malcolm II
King Malcolm was for some time the most powerful man in the country. King Owen of the Britons of Strathclyde had died without issue, and Malcolm’s grandson, Duncan, was the rightful heir through marriage. The Four Kingdoms of Alba were finally united under one throne  -  and under Malcolm.

King Duncan I
Duncan was related to previous rulers through his mother Bethoc, daughter of Malcolm II. He became King in 1034. Defeated by the native English at Durham in 1040, he was a weak character and a poor leader. At a place called Bothganowan meaning "Blacksmith's Hut" in old Gaelic, (or Bothgofnane, Bothgofuane, or Bothgowan, today Pitgaveny near Elgin), his cousin, chief of the northern Scots defeated and killed Duncan, and took the kingship for himself.

King MacBeth
The Mormaer of Moray, MacBeth (Mac Bethad mac Findláich,) claimed the throne on his own behalf and that of his wife Grauch, and formed an alliance with his cousin the Earl of Orkney. Respected for his strong leadership qualities, MacBeth was a wise king who ruled successfully for 17 years from a fortified castle at Dunsinane north of Perth. His rule was secure enough for him to go on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050.

Duncan’s son Malcolm had fled to Northumbria after the defeat of his father and had never given up his claim to the throne. In 1054 with the support of Earl Siward, he led an army against MacBeth, and defeated him at the battle of Dunsinnan. MacBeth remained king, and restored Malcolm’s lands to him, but in 1057 at Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire on 15th August, Malcolm finally killed MacBeth and took the crown. He also married MacBeth’s widow.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Viking Scotland IV

Alban kings
The first king named as rí Alban (King of Alba) was Donald II who died in 900. Before that the title seems to have been King of the Picts or King of Fortriu. Constantine II followed him and reigned for nearly half a century. When he lost the battle at Brunanburh, he joined the Culdee monks at St. Andrews and tradition claims he and bishop Ceallach of St Andrews, brought the Catholic Church into conformity with that of the larger Gaelic world.
The period between the accession of Malcolm I (Maol Caluim Mac Domhnuill) and Malcolm II (Maol Caluim Mac Cionaodha) was marked by good relations with the English. When King Edmund of England invaded cumbra land (Old English for Strathclyde or Cumbria or both) in 945, he then handed the province over to king Malcolm I on condition of a permanent alliance. During the reign of King Indulf (Idulb mac Causantín, 954–62), the fortress called oppidum Eden, i.e. almost certainly Edinburgh, was captured.
It marked the first foothold in Lothian. The reign of Malcolm II saw the Scoto-Pictish kingdom of Fortriu incorporated into Alba. He defeated the Northumbrians at the Battle of Carham in 1018. In the same year, King Owain died, leaving his kingdom of Strathclyde to his overlord Malcolm. A meeting of Malcolm with King Canute of Denmark and England in 1031 secured these conquests. Some say that Malcolm accepted Canute as his overlord, others do not. Lothian was not incorporated into Scotland until the Wars of independence.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Viking Scotland III

Alba is the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland. Historically, the term referred to Britain as a whole and is ultimately based on the Indo-European root for "white." I would guess the white chalk cliffs had something to do with it, plus when viewed from the north coast of France, or the sea, the island is often under a layer of white cloud. Scottish Gaelic speakers used it as the name given to the former kingdom of the Picts around the reign of king Causantin mac Aeda (Constantine II) from 943–952. The region Breadalbane (Bràghad Albann, the upper part of Alba) also takes its name from it.
The name
There is no precise Gaelic equivalent for the English terminology 'Kingdom of Alba' since the Gaelic term Rìoghachd na h-Alba means Kingdom of Scotland. English scholars adopted the Gaelic name Alba to refer to a political period in Scottish history that existed between 900 and 1286.
The land
The territory of Alba extended from Loch Ness south to the firths of Clyde and Forth while The Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands, together with much of the mainland north of Loch Ness, remained under Viking control. Southwest Scotland (the Kingdom of Strathclyde) suffered under the same Norwegian Vikings who settled in Dublin. In the southeast, Lothian, once part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, lay under the control of the Danish Vikings who settled in York
The people
The people of this period in Alba were mostly Pictish-Gaels, or later Pictish-Gaels and Scoto-Norman, and markedly different to the period of the Stuarts, when the elite of the kingdom were mostly speakers of Middle English, which later evolved into Lowland Scots.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Viking Scotland II

Early History
The tribes to the north of Hadrian’s Wall were largely undisturbed by the Roman occupation of Britain. A Roman document of the 3rd century mentioned the Picti, a new tribal group that had established a dominant position in the country. Scholars suggest this was a Romanised version of a tribal name, or that they tattooed their bodies (picti is Latin for 'painted people'). They are thought to have been an indigenous people with a non-Indo-European language. They were later subdued by Celts - not from within Scotland, but from overseas. In the 5th century a Celtic tribe from Northern Ireland settled on the west coast of Scotland.

The Scots
The invaders were called Scots. (Yes, the original Scots were a tribe from Northern Ireland). The Scots established the kingdom of Dalriada in both what is now Northern Ireland and the south west of Scotland. By the 9th century the Irish Dalriada succumbed to Viking raids, but in Scotland the Dalriadan kings established themselves and withstood constant Viking pressure from all sides.

The Vikings
Monasteries of the time owned sufficient wealth to attract Viking marauders. Lindisfarne on the east coast of Northumberland was raided in 793 and Iona, on the west coast of Alba, three times in a decade (in 795, 802 and 805). Even monasteries which seemed secure on inland rivers fell victim to longships rowing upstream. During the 9th century, the raiders settled in the Scottish islands and the Isle of Man and seized territory on the mainland of both Britain and Ireland. In 838 Norwegians captured Dublin and established a Norse kingdom in Ireland. From 865 the Danes settled in eastern England.

The MacAlpin line
A recognizable Scottish kingdom had appeared by the mid-9th century. Some suggest the year 843 to be the important date, but it was Kenneth MacAlpin, king of the Scots since 840, who won acceptance as king of both Picts and Scots. The MacAlpin kings took Strathclyde and Lothian into Scotland and Kenneth's male descendants provided kings for the next two centuries. The separate Pictish kingdom disappeared. All that remains are the beautiful carvings of weird beasts.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Viking Scotland I

When writing historical novels with Vikings as central characters there is much scope for where to place a story. I like to place them in the north-west Highlands because I have enjoyed so many holidays there. Vikings settled in the northern and western isles and along the coastline of Scotland from Caithness to Argyle during the early part of the ninth century. By the middle of that century a Viking kingdom had been set up.
I soon found that research in this area is sketchy and conclusions were hard to come by. For example, Laithlinn was the Viking name for Scotland. Laithlinn is also written as Lothlend, Laithlind and later Lochlainn, and not all scholars believe the name refers to Scotland. Information in the Irish Annals, the Icelandic Sagas and Norse histories of South West Norway often contradict each other. Old languages present further problems and to add to the confusion, writing itself was not the precise thing it is today. Spelling of names was inconsistent and punctuation often absent. There are also all the problems of who is writing, who paid him to do so and how one-sided was the view put forward. In all of history it is usually the victor who dictates the story.

Scholars continue to argue about terms such as Dane, Norseman and Viking, who they were and where they came from, but proof is sadly lacking. Viking itself isn’t really a name, but a verb; to go “a-viking” was to travel by ship in search of adventure and reward. It is easy to see how the term became a description of a shipload of hungry men waving axes.

The first systems of writing developed and used by the Germanic peoples were runic alphabets and the runes that were carved in stone still exist. Paper evidence of the period is almost none existent. When Edward I invaded in 1296 he ordered all the symbols of Scots nationhood removed to London. A treaty provided for the return of the records but they remained in London until 1948. Only about 200 documents remained.

The archives had an unlucky life. The records that built up after Edward’s time remained safe in the Castle until its capture by Cromwell's army in December 1650, when they were removed to Stirling Castle. When Stirling fell in 1651, the records were carried off by the garrison, or sent to London. Some were returned in 1657, other were sent back in 1660, but the 'Elizabeth', one of the two ships carrying the archives, sank in a storm off the Northumbrian coast.

The surviving records were deposited again in Edinburgh Castle then transferred in 1662 to the Laigh Hall on the Royal Mile. Damaged by damp and vermin, the great fire of 1700 saw them removed to St Giles Church. Eventually they were given a safe and permanent home, but early records pre 1296 are almost non-existent. The King lists survive, but little else.